In 1899, the Buehler family planted their first crops steps away from the cool waters of Mount Vernon, Missouri’s Spring River. Today, the Buehler homestead has grown to more than 450 acres. While many of those acres are occupied by mainstays like corn and wheat, passersby may notice the presence of one striking, slightly more unusual crop: rows of flowering elderberry bushes, which represent a passion project for fourth-generation farmer David Buehler and his wife, Ann.
Now, under the Elder Farms name, the elderberries are a promising source of income for the Buehlers – but they started as a curiosity. “Agriculture is really tough anymore,” David says. “A few years ago I told my wife that I thought we needed to change direction. As a farm, we were going backward instead of forward.” At the time, David’s neighbor had planted a patch of elderberries. “I watched him for the first year or two and thought, ‘I think I’d like to do that as an alternative crop,” David says. “I thought that if I could raise one acre of elderberry compared to my 20 or 30 acres of soybeans, why not?”
However, as David did more research into the healing benefits of elderberries, he realized that the crop had serious potential. “Elderberry is one of the best things you can do for your immune system,” he says. “They essentially coat any virus in our systems, keeping the virus from entering our cells and boosting the immune system to kill the virus off.”
He planted 10 acres the first year, immediately piquing the interest of the local holistic wellness community. The berries’ benefits hit close to home: Ann owns a popular performing arts studio in Springfield, but has struggled with several health issues that occasionally keep her out of the spotlight. “I have celiac sprue and migraines, and I was really into the elderberries as part of a more holistic approach to health,” Ann says, explaining that the farm’s growing product line now includes an elderberry-infused CBD wellness tincture, two raw honey variations and an elderflower-hemp coconut oil. “When it came time to diversify, we realized elderberry and CBD could be a great marriage of products. Eventually, we decided that we needed bees on the farm to pollinate the berries, which is how we got started producing local raw honey.”
The operation is still in early stages, but the products are extremely versatile – and farmers' market shoppers are taking notice. “You can ingest the products, you can bake with them – you can even use a few of them topically,” Ann says. “The CBD really helps with inflammation in joints, and the coconut oil is 100 percent Keto-friendly. We’re really committed to helping people take back their lives.”
The Buehlers are also partnering with several local businesses, including Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe and KeenBean Coffee Roasters in Mount Vernon, for signature products like honey-infused breads and lattes. “The community has really welcomed us with open arms,” Ann says. “We’re still trying to keep things on a small scale because we’re so new and we want to focus on a quality product. But we’re so excited to educate people on ways to use these products to improve their lives.”
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? I tend to follow the Keto diet, and I’ve been really into using our coconut oil in my Bullet coffee for some healthy fat. It has a really light taste and a subtle fragrance that I love. It’s also a great substitute for vegetable oil as long as you’re not cooking at high temperatures. I also use our honey a lot to make protein balls or a homemade simple syrup for Margarita mix. –Ann Buehler
What’s your perfect day of eating in Springfield?
If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, we’ll go to Farmers Gastropub for brunch. From there, if we’re doing a late lunch before 2pm I’d try to get to Early Bird Breakfast Pub. It’s so fun there because you can pop up at the bar and enjoy an afternoon cocktail. I’d probably finish at either Progress or The Order at Hotel Vandivort. –A.B.
I’m also going to say Farmers Gastropub – we’ve been eating there a lot, along with Aviary Cafe. From there, I’d do a late afternoon at Missouri Spirits with some kind of food and a drink or two. –D.B.
Who are Springfield chefs you admire at the moment? Caleb Stangroom, the head chef at Hotel Vandivort, has done some beautiful things. Another one who is kind of sneaking under the radar is Cat Lix at Missouri Spirits. She’s a really amazing chef who does an incredible job with dietary restrictions. –A.B.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Springfield? I’ve been so amazed with Springfield’s food scene lately. It’s really started evolving and becoming more progressive, and it’s so nice to see more local restaurants using farm-to-table products. I love Progress and the way they’ve put together their business model using fresh local foods. As a whole, I would like to see the chef community here taking advantage of this really rich agricultural area a little bit more. –A.B.
What’s your favorite comfort food? It’s got to be chips and salsa for me. –A.B.
I’d say a big greasy burger. –D.B.
What inspires your business? How do you approach R&D for your product line, and what inspires that process? We love people, and we believe wholeheartedly in our farm. It’s a Missouri Century Farm and a family farm, and we’re passionate about making it diverse and viable for the future. What keeps us going are the stories that we get from customers who have experienced health benefits from our products – whether it’s CBD-infused honey or our elderberry tinctures. –A.B.
As far as development goes, we worked on the honey for probably four to five months. We had to have the right balance of dried flower to the raw honey. Now, it takes about four to five weeks to produce a single batch. –D.B.
We work with experts and research and play with the formulas for a long time. –A.B.
What are your future plans? We’re trying to reach out to lots of different restaurants and chefs to educate them about our product and the things you can do with it. We’re still definitely in the basic growth stage. We’re also hoping to move into the next phase of the farm – we’re applying for a hemp license to grow and produce our own CBD products, which is really exciting. –A.B.
Elder Farms, elderfarms.com